WSFS Financial (WSFS) in Wilmington, Del., has been using its excess capital to open new branches, hire lenders and beef up its wealth management operations, but Chief Executive Mark Turner assured investors and analysts Friday that repaying the $53 million it received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program remains a priority.
In a conference call discussing first-quarter earnings, Turner said that the $4.3 billion-asset WSFS intends to repay the funds by the time its quarterly dividend payments are set to rise in January 2014, "if not well before."
The company issued $53 million of preferred shares to the Treasury Department in January 2009, and the Treasury auctioned those shares to private investors in March. It is Turner's intention to buy back the shares from the new owners before the current 5% coupon rate rises to 9%.
"In a shareholder-friendly way, we believe we have the wherewithal to get it done," Turner said of the Tarp repayment, according to a transcript of the call provided by SeekingAlpha.
He added that the company, which had been regulated by the Office of Thrift Supervision until that agency was abolished last year, has been in regular discussions with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Board about the timing of the repayment.
"As you might imagine, with two new regulators, they might want to take some time to get to know us, especially in the current environment," Turner said. "All I can say is at this point it’s an iterative three-way process and discussions are ongoing and constructive."
Still, WSFS, which is very well-capitalized and is coming off a strong first quarter, continues to scout for opportunities to grow the franchise and take advantage of market disruption, Turner said. Delaware's largest bank, Wilmington Trust, was taken over last year by M&T Bank (MTB) of Buffalo and WSFS has been aggressive in trying to capture customer run-off from that deal and others in its markets — including Wells Fargo's (WFC) purchase of Wachovia three years ago and First Niagara Financial Group's (FNFG) acquisition of Harleysville National in 2010.
"Even though a lot of those headline dates were some time ago, we have found that it’s when the customers start to have the experiences, whether it’s loan renewals or problem resolutions, that they become disenfranchised," Turner said on the call.